Can we talk about something for a second regarding the Sixers?
No, not the fact that Joel Embiid is still very good -- because that was never in doubt.
No, not the Markelle Fultz three-pointer that was splashed in the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s game -- although, holy god, that was special:
(When I asked what the crowd was like at Wells Fargo when that happened, our Sean O’Connor beautifully described it as people “cheering as if their best friend just got the girl at the end of a romcom”.)
No, no. This is something else that was possible even last year and is such a welcome sight. It’s the cherry on the sundae, or the foam on the PSL for all you “basic” people. (According to my sources, men drink PSL’s, too, hence “people”. I don’t know any personally because my friends know my feelings and know better.)
I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news to the rest of the NBA, but the Sixers could have two or maybe even three First Team All-NBA defenders in their starting five, if Ben Simmons’ preseason and first two regular season games are any indication.
The Sixers already have one First Team All-NBA defender in Robert Covington -- something I continue to make very clear to everyone:
(Again for the people on the back):— Hesi*Pull-up*Adio (@AdioBRoyster) October 19, 2018
️ Robert Covington
️ First Team
️ All NBA Defense!
Joel Embiid is a Second Team All-NBA defender -- which is fine because I’m not going to argue putting Rudy Gobert in the first team. That’s totally fine in my eyes.
Here’s where it gets interesting this season. Holy jeebus. Ben Simmons might push for First Team All-NBA defense. Last April for this site, I made the case that Simmons should have been on the first team (if not the second). He fell to Victor Oladipo, Jrue Holiday, and his teammate, Covington, on the first team, and wasn’t picked for the second team. Dejounte Murray of the Spurs and Jimmy Butler were picked instead.
Okay. (Shrug). I guess.
Simmons finished last year with good defensive numbers: 102 DRtg, 5.0 DWS, 3.6 DBPM, 140 total steals, and 70 total blocks, allowing opponents to shoot 46% from the field.
Yes, this is a ridiculously small sample size, and it’s only been two games. Feel free to get excited, anyway.
Simmons defensively after two games:
- 93 DRtg
- 5.6 DBPM
- 5 Steals
- 4 Blocks
Yes. It’s been two games.
Yes. It’s absurd to extrapolate how long this will last.
Yes. Enjoy it.
Simmons showed off how good he could be, defensively, at various points in the preseason. Against the Dallas Mavericks, Simmons had this moment guarding rookie Luka Dončić:
Simmons puts the clamps on Doncic pic.twitter.com/AwhdH8ugih— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) October 5, 2018
That’s not just “locking all windows and doors”. That’s locking the windows, the doors, the doggy door (which is a smaller door), the crack in a leaking roof, and preventing Nightcrawler from using his mutant abilities to teleport into the house.
Simmons picks Dončić up at half court, uses his body to keep him from going to his right into the paint, then continues to pressure him to the baseline, leading to Dončić just conceding defeat.
Opening night against Boston, Simmons was guarding Kyrie Irving from the start of the game. Irving had an off night (2-14 FG, 1-8 3PT, 7 points.). Some of that, yes, is possible rust, but some of it is also Simmons. Gordon Hayward, who was also returning from a long hiatus, also had his troubles scoring on Simmons.
Great Defense by Ben Simmons. Ben Simmons All NBA Defense is a real possibility. pic.twitter.com/puR8YiBe8V— Sixers Nation (@PHLSixersNation) October 17, 2018
Simmons meets Hayward in the corner, and uses his length to pester Hayward into dribbling, where Simmons pokes the ball away.
Last night, this was my favorite defensive play as Simmons just completely blows up this screen and blocks a three-point attempt from Justin Holiday:
Ben Simmons continues to play really good defense. Excellent effort and extension to get round the screen and block Holiday on this jumper.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) October 19, 2018
Simmons' size and speed is such a dangerous combo: pic.twitter.com/rl7zJHjA9C
Simmons doesn’t have bronze defensive NBA 2K badges, anymore. They’re definitely silver on their way to gold, so Ronnie2K might wanna get on that.
We’ve said this on various mediums before (i.e. Twitter, these columns, in conversation over one or more “adult beverages”), but if Ben Simmons is a First Team All-NBA defender, like Lord Covington is with Embiid as the last line of defense under the basket, there’s no reason why the Sixers can’t be the best defensive team in the NBA. They were 4th in DRtg last year (105) and 11th in opponent’s PPG (105.3).
There are several things to watch for as this season moves forward, and Fultz’s progression shouldn’t be the only thing. This Sixers team is going to be extremely good, defensively, and it’ll be something special if Ben Simmons continues to be this active and this engaged on the defensive side of the ball.